Staff updates from the Vice Chancellor regarding fair employment

The Vice-Chancellor would like to reiterate how much the University values and understands the crucial role played by all members of the University. 

The University aims to provide employment opportunities which meet our business needs and match our employment standards and values. 

Vice-Chancellor's email of 17 February 2020

Dear Colleagues,

Following a discussion at the Senior Management Group meeting on Wednesday 12th February (including Heads of Departments, College Executives, Directors of Services and Student Representatives) it was agreed that I would clarify to the University community what we have been doing to find a resolution to the current dispute.  Our understanding is that the dispute is focussed on pensions, pay, casualisation, workload and equality.

  1. In relation to the pension dispute, I can confirm that in response to the latest UUK consultation the University of Exeter would be willing to be put back on the table the offer of an additional 0.5% employer contribution.  This offer was previously made by UUK to the UCU but was rejected by the UCU HEC without consultation with members late last summer. 
  2. We remain committed to ensuring the USS pension continues to be one of the very best schemes in the country. We have been fully supportive of the recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP), as well as the recommendations outlined in the JEP2 report, which was released in December 2019.
  3. In relation to pay, we were one of only three institutions (out of 147) who proposed to increase the current pay offer. As this move was not agreed by the majority of universities and we are bound by national bargaining, UCEA had no mandate to re-open the national pay negotiations.
  4. Following my emails to all staff in September 2018 and December 2019, in which we committed ourselves to ending casualisation, we continue working together as a community to resolving these institutional dilemmas. This has led to the creation of the Fair Employment For All working group. 
  5. We are working closely with colleagues, trade unions and student representatives on casual employment, workload, and gender and race equality through the Positive Working Environment groups alongside the Fair Employment For All working group.

The work of these groups builds on our continued commitment to improve the working conditions of colleagues here at the University and follows on from our previous actions which have included: paying the voluntary Living Wage to contracted staff and casual workers, launching our sector-leading parental benefits for all, and improving our pay scales for Lecturers and Senior Lecturers.

I hope this clarifies the University’s collective efforts to resolve the issues at the heart of the dispute.  I also want to assure all colleagues that I will continue to work proactively and tirelessly with all parties and I am still hopeful that together as a community we can find a way to resolve these national disputes without the need for further strike action.

With best wishes,

Professor Sir Steve Smith,Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive

Vice-Chancellor's message of 6 December 2019

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to thank you for the professionalism you’ve shown during the recent period of industrial action, particularly as I know some of you have had to make some difficult decisions regarding your own position in relation to the issues under dispute.

I also want to reassure you that throughout the negotiating period on both the USS pension and the national pay negotiation disputes I’ve been talking to UUK and UCEA about the need to continue to discuss and find a resolution to both of these matters and I am hopeful that further talks will take place in the coming weeks that address and resolve these issues.

While some of the issues involved in the strike are national (pensions and pay) others can be resolved through proactive local bargaining (such as contract standardisation and working conditions). This means that together we can make changes without a national agreement.

I know when we work together as a community, for example the work that was completed by the climate emergency group, we can tackle complex issues successfully. I would therefore like to build on this approach to develop ideas with you further, as well as with representatives of the campus Trade Unions, the Students’ Guild and the Students’ Union to improve working conditions across the institution. I have therefore established a Fair Employment working group which has been commissioned to decide what our priorities should be, and what future actions we should take in this regard. We are also interested in hearing the views of the wider University community, and next Monday’s Weekly Bulletin will give more information on how colleagues can contribute to shaping this important piece of work.

The background to the work of the group is important context and demonstrates, I believe, our continued commitment to improve the working conditions of colleagues working here at the University which have included: making changes to Grades B and C as part of our commitment to offer a competitive reward package, paying the voluntary Living Wage to contracted staff and casual workers, re-opening the Band 4 contribution rate for members of ERSS in Spring 2019 (the pension scheme for colleagues in Grade B-D), as well as launching our sector-leading parental benefits for all. We have also made improvements to our pay scales for Lecturers and Senior Lecturers.

In addition to this, you will recall that in September 2018, we announced new contracting arrangements for Postgraduate Teaching Assistants, and we engaged with the UCU and our Postgraduate Research (PGR) community in 2018/19 to review those arrangements and agree improvements for 2019/20 which have ensured all PTAs are now on annualised contracts so they can benefit from the additional security this brings. However, we recognised that these changes could be further enhanced and so on 1 August 2019, we wrote to the UCU inviting them to participate in discussions to improve our approach to Fair Employment and working conditions.

We want to move ahead with these discussions at speed in the New Year and think we can make significant progress by identifying positive changes in the following areas:

• Ensuring all of our regularly timetabled teaching is delivered by colleagues employed on standard contracts of employment.
• Significantly increasing our use of open-ended contracts of employment, recognising that fixed term contracts will be appropriate in a limited range of circumstances, such as cover for study leave and family leave. 
• Working towards standard paid time allowances for preparation, marking and associated activities, which we recognise is a concern for members of our PGR community working as PTAs.
I hope this update gives you confidence in the continuous steps we are taking at the University to make local improvements to your, and your colleagues', working conditions, as well as the changes we would like to implement next year.

Thank you once again for your continued support, especially at what I know as been a very challenging time for our whole community.

With best wishes,

Professor Sir Steve Smith

Vice-Chancellor's email of September 2018

Dear Colleagues

As we look to the start of the new academic year, I wanted to share an update with you about the work we’ve been doing to improve the contracting arrangements for our postgraduate students.

As you may know, in the past our postgraduate students have been engaged by the University to deliver work on a casual basis, which means they have not been able to access the full range of benefits on offer to colleagues on permanent, or fixed term contracts.

To ensure our postgraduate students are treated equally to those on similar working patterns, from 24 September 2018, postgraduate students undertaking regular scheduled work will be employed on an annualised contract rather than as casual workers. The new arrangements will run as a pilot in 2018/19 so that we can assess if any further changes are necessary in the future.

The benefits this will bring include:

  • Greater professionalisation of the Postgraduate Teaching Assistant Role, including clear association with the Education and Scholarship Academic terms and conditions of employment.
  • Solid commitment from the University to provide work, and by the employee to undertake the work that has been agreed.
  • Access to benefits received by employees of the University, including sickness benefits, parental leave, and annual leave.
  • Participation of postgraduate students in induction/probation/training and Performance Development Review procedures (via ePDR) - payment will be made for participating in these activities.
  • Membership of the University’s pension scheme arrangements “Universities Superannuation Scheme”.
  • Enhancing our students’ experience by supporting our research students to acquire professional and personal skills that will enhance their future employment opportunities

Communication about this change has been shared with relevant colleagues and students across the University and the People Services team are currently in the process of issuing contracts.

Further information can be found on the main PTA website, and frequently asked questions for managers and postgraduate students/postgraduate teaching assistants can be found on the PTA Guidance for Managers webpages, and the PTA Guidance for Employees webpages.

However, if you do have further queries that cannot be clarified through the above links, please refer to the following contacts who are available to provide advice relating to these changes.

Thank you for taking the time to read about these important changes.

With best wishes

Professor Sir Steve Smith,Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive